Book review - "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants" by Malcolm Gladwell challenges conventional wisdom about strengths and advantages.

Gladwell says in the Introduction we’ve been taught to believe Goliath had an overwhelming advantage when he faced off against David 3,000 years ago. But Gladwell points out Goliath actually had major disadvantages working against him – he lumbered, he was weighted down with armor, and he likely suffered from acromelagy, a pituitary gland disease that can cause not just unusual size, but other liabilities, including poor vision. Maybe worst of all, Goliath assumed David would engage him in the traditional way – close combat with swords and spears. David, for his part, had several advantages working in his favor. He was nimble, he was skilled in using the sling, and, he was freed up to engage Goliath in a non-traditional way.

In Chapter 1 Gladwell tells the stories of two Davids who faced Goliaths and defeated them. Loved the story of Vivek Ranadivé. An immigrant from India, Ranadive never played basketball himself, but volunteered to coach his daughter’s team of inexperienced and mostly non-athletic 12 year-old girls. He figured out his team could beat more athletic and experienced teams by using a relentless full-court-press instead of playing a traditional style of basketball. Ranadive took his team all the way to a national championship game. Also in chapter 2 is a recounting of Lawrence of Arabia, the Englishman who used unconventional techniques to lead an unruly band of Bedoins to victory over a better-trained Turkish army.

I also enjoyed the chapter on dealing with Dyslexia. Gladwell tells the stories of super-lawyer David Boies and Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn, both of whom suffer from Dyslexia. Dyslexics endure many failures when they are young. Repeated failures can crush the spirit. But they can also have the opposite effect: they can inoculate the individual to failure and make them more likely to try things that others wouldn’t - often a path to success.

Unfortunately the rest of the book just didn’t reach me. I labored to get through chapters on optimal class sizes in elementary and middle school, whether students should try to get into prestigious colleges, the relationship between money and successful parenting, how Catholics in Ireland beat English oppression. The chapter on Three Strikes in California befuddled me and left me wondering why it was included.

I guess I was expecting more stories about nimble start-up companies that use audacious, out-of-the-box techniques to battle big corporations. More stories on athletes overcoming long odds to achieve greatness. But those themes weren’t really developed after the first couple of chapters.

Yet, the book is still worth buying and reading. Everyone needs an occasional reminder that giants can be defeated. To buy this book from Amazon, click below.